Notes & Acknowledgements
- Many variations on the basic legend currently exist in the volumes that recount it, apparently largely due to copying errors and dramatic license.
Katharine Briggs in ‘The Fairies’ says the green girl claimed to have come from an underground country.
Margaret Rowan gives a particularly over-dramatic version of the story in her book ‘House of Evil’; detail-wise, though, it’s the same story except that she calls the man the green children were taken to Richard de Caine, and describes him as the “richest landowner in the district.” Also, she says that the girl claimed her home was “Not far from here [Woolpit], but cut off from us by a great river of light.” In ‘Strange Disappearances’, Brad Steiger says the children entered a cave following some small animals; the cave just kept going down deeper and deeper until, somehow, the children found themselves in the fields near Woolpit.
Steiger also says that the green girl married a man from Norfolk. Rodney Davies and Harold T. Wilkins say she married a man either of or at King’s Lynn in Norfolk, to which Davies adds that she lived for years in King’s Lynn. In all cases, it’s agreed that no one knows whether or not the green girl ever had children.
- It should be noted that many authors attempt to show that the mysterious arrival of the Woolpit green children was not a singular occurrence; for instance, in ‘House of Evil’, Margaret Rowan states that “every now and then reports still come in of the arrival of green people from nowhere.” Despite this rather sweeping statement, she only gives one example; a recounting of a UFO encounter story from 1955 in which the UFO occupants were described as glowing greenish, which is a rather thin attempt to imply a connection between the two events. The exact same approach is taken by Harold Wilkins in ‘Strange Mysteries of Time and Space’, when he relates the story to a series of UFO occupant sightings that he never goes into any real detail about.
Harold Wilkins, Brad Steiger and Rodney Davies all try to relate the incident to other reports of people who seem to appear from nowhere... but none of these other people were green. Davies also feels that, if the green children really did appear from nowhere, then whatever phenomena produced this effect could be the same that occasionally makes people from our world supernaturally disappear (if, in fact, they do).
- This is the Latin version of the green children story by Ralph of Coggeshall Abbey from Chronicon Anglicanum, 1200 CE, as reprinted in Rerum Britannicarum Medii Aevi Scriptores, or Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland During the Middle Ages, 1857 London, no. 66, pg. 118-120:
“De quodam puero st puella de terra emergentibus.
“Aliud quoque mirum priori non dissimile in Suthfolke contigit apud Sanctam Mariam de Wulpetes. Inventus est puer quidam cum sorore sua ab accolis loci illius juxta oram cujusdam foveµ quµ ibidem continetur, qui formam omnium membrorum cµteris hominibus similem habebant, sed in colore cutis ab omnibus mortalibus nostrµ habitabilis discrepabant. Nam tota superficies cutis eorum viridi colore tingebatur. Loquelam eorum nullus intelligere potuit. Hi igitur ad domum domini Ricardi de Calne cujusdam militis, adducti prµ admiratione, apud Wikes, inconsolabiliter flebant. Panis ac cµtera cibaria eis apposita sunt, sed nullis escis quµ eis apponebantur vesci volebant, cum utique maxima famis inedia diutius cruciarentur, quia omnia hujusmodi cibaria incomestibilia esse credebant, sicut puella postmodum confessa est. Tandem cum fabµ noviter cum stipitibus abscissµ in domo asportarentur, cum maxima aviditate innuerunt ut de fabis illis sibi daretur. Quµ coram eis allatµ, stipites aperiunt, non fabarum folliculos, putantes in concavitate stipitum fabas contineri. Sed fabis in stipitibus non inventis, iterum flere c£perunt. Quod ubi astantes animadverterunt, folliculos aperiunt, fabas nudas ostendunt, ostensis cum magna hilaritate vescuntur, nulla alia cibaria ex multo tempore penitus contingentes. Puer vero semper quasi languore depressus infra breve tempus moritur. Puella vero sospitate continua perfruens, ac cibariis quibuslibet assuefacta, illum prassinum colorem penitus amisit, atque sanguineam habitudinem totius corporis paulatim recuperavit. Quµ postmodum sacri baptismatis lavacro regenerata, ac per multos annos in ministerio prµdicti militis, (sicut ab eodem milite et ejus familia frequenter audivimus,) commorata, nimium lasciva et petulans exstitit. Interrogata vero frequenter de hominibus suµ regionis, asserebat quod omnes habitatores et omnia quµ in regione illa habebantur viridi tingerentur colore, et quod nullum solem cernebant, sed quadam claritate fruebantur, sicut post solis occasum contingit. Interrogata autem quomodo in hanc terram devenisset cum puero prµdicto, respondit, quia cum pecora sequerentur, devenerunt in quandam cavernam. Quam ingressi, audierunt quendam delectabilem sonum campanarum; cujus soni dulcedine capti per cavernam diutius errando incedebant, donec ad exitum illius devenirent. Qui inde emergentes, nimia claritate solis et insolita aeris temperie, quasi attoniti et exanimes effecti, diu super oram speluncµ jacuerunt. Cumque a supervenientium inquietudine terrerentur, diffugere voluerunt, sed introitum speluncµ minime reperire potuerunt, donec ab eis comprehenderentur.”
- If the story elements were all the resemblance there was between the two tales, it could be simply chalked up to a good story gaining different details with the re-tellings... something that happens all the time, and for which no one person can be blamed. But Macklin’s account of the Green Children of Banjos contains details that are all too obviously borrowed directly from Keightley’s account of the Green Children of Woolpit, ear-marking it as a deliberate falsehood.
A good example of this is the suspicious similarity in both accounts when describing the children’s discovery of beans as a good food. In Keightley’s account of the Woolpit children, we read: “...when some beans just cut, with their stalks, were brought into the house, they [the children] made signs, with great avidity, that they should be given to them.” Compare this to Macklin’s account of the Banjos children, as quoted from an unspecified ‘report’ (highlights are mine): “...beans cut or torn from stalks were brought into the house, and they [the children] fell on them with great avidity.” Clearly, the account in Macklin’s book is just a paraphrase of the earlier Keightley account; and the use of the phrase “with great avidity” is undoubtedly a direct steal.
In the end, there is only one major difference between the two accounts: in Keightley’s story of the Green Children of Woolpit, the girl survives to eventually marry, whereas in Macklin’s story of the Green Children of Banjos, the girl dies after five years. This can be seen as a story convenience on Macklin’s part; after all, if the girl was found in 1887 and survived to a good age, researchers would expect to be able to find lots more evidence for the story... instead, I have only John Macklin’s word in his account that there were documents, reports, and sworn witness statements in existence at least as late as 1965, when his book Strange Destinies was published. In light of the similarity of Macklin’s 1965 Banjos account to Keightley’s 1850 Woolpit account, it seems likely that Macklin simply copied and doctored the earlier story to suit his own purposes. If any reader out there has found a version of the Banjos story that pre-dates 1965, I would be most interested in hearing about it.
- Wilkin’s quote for the green girl, claimed to be from an account of the green children written by Gervase of Tilbury: “We are folk of St. Martin’s Land; for he is the chief saint among us. We know not where the land is, and remember only that one day we were feeding our father’s flock in the field when we heard a great noise like bells, as when, at St. Edmunds, they all peal together. And on a sudden we were both caught up in the spirit and found ourselves in your harvest-field. Among us no sun riseth, nor is there open sunshine, but such a twilight as here goes before the rising and setting of the sun. Yet there is a land of light to be seen not far from us, but cut off from us by a stream of great width.”
Now compare with the translation of William of Newburgh’s quote from the green girl, published by John Stevenson: “ ‘We are inhabitants of the land of St Martin, who is regarded with peculiar veneration in the country which gave us birth.’ Being further asked where that land was, and how they came thence hither, they answered, ‘We are ignorant of both those circumstances; we only remember this, that on a certain day, when we were feeding our father’s flocks in the fields, we heard a great sound, such as we are now accustomed to hear at St Edmund’s, when the bells are chiming; and whilst listening to the sound in admiration, we became on a sudden, as it were, entranced, and found ourselves among you in the fields where you were reaping.’ Being questioned whether in that land they believed in Christ, or whether the sun arose, they replied that the country was Christian, and possessed churches; but said they, ‘ The sun does not rise upon our countrymen; our land is little cheered by its beams; we are contented with that twilight, which, among you, precedes the sun-rise, or follows the sun-set. Moreover, a certain luminous country is seen, not far distant from ours, and divided from it by a very considerable river.’ “
Stevenson printed his translation around one-hundred years before Wilkins claimed to have a copy of the account from Gervase of Tilbury; and it’s pretty clear that the account Wilkins presents is just a re-wording of the earlier account.
Thanks go out to tmResearch, Rocky C. Karlage, David Yale, Brad Gilbert, and Bret Hammond (www.bretnet.com), all of whom pointed me to John Carey’s translation of William of Newburgh’s account in Eyewitness to History.
Thanks also go to Melissa Leggett for sending me her observations about the folkloric nature of the story.